Epiphany III, Year C
1 Cor 12:12-31a
All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
(1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
A non-sacrificial hermeneutic is a way of reading the biblical text (or any text) in a non-persecutory (that is, non-scapegoating) fashion. It is the intentional deconstruction of the assertion that God can be or is violent or coercive. It is a way of reading the text through the lens of the cross, through the revelation of both the negative aspects of mimetic religion and the revelation of the empowering forgiveness and mercy of God. It is a perspective that is ultimately redemptive.
The power of this change comes when God sends the Spirit ‘that beats in God’s heart’ empowering heaven’s ambassador. The empowerment of the Spirit is directly correlated to the freedom of humanity from the bondage of sin, death and the devil (as Luther might say). And the empowerment of the Spirit is given to one who has a name, Jesus, Yeshua.
This empowerment is prophetic in the midst of a culture that for the most part, believed prophecy had died. We shall see next week why the prophetic message gets the dander of religious folks up, for now we want to examine the message itself.
First, the message is about the messenger. Even if we acknowledge Luke’s fingerprints all over this text, it is not a historically impossible text, as many have argued. It is not the foundational text or in the group of texts we would use to demonstrate Jesus self-awareness. However, it is not inconsistent with what we can reasonably know about the historical Jesus.
The message is that the hometown boy made good. But remember, as we suggested in Year B, this hometown boy was a mamzer, a bastard child. Jesus would have grown up like a lot children these days, feeling outcast, different, strange. Little wonder that he turns to the Creator for solace. The gift of the Spirit is both the validation of his person, his life, and it is also the validation of the broken hearted, the poor, the prisoner and those unable to see. When we speak of Jesus’ mission we must absolutely recall those to whom he goes.
Second, the message is about God’s character. In Jesus’ citation of Isaiah, the passage about the vengeance of God is omitted. Later in Luke 7 we shall see the conflation of three Isaianic passages, all of which omit reference to God’s retribution. This is very significant, for it asserts the real distinction of God; viz that God, in relation to humanity, is loving and forgiving, and this is demonstrated over and over again in the Gospels when Jesus, in the power of God’s Spirit, forgives sin.
Third, not only so, but implicitly this forgiveness also extends to the enemies of God’s people. By omitting the vengeance aspects of the Isaiah text, Jesus is clearly extending the blessing of the gift of the Spirit in his person to everyone, but especially those violated and victimized by society and authorities and economies. Jesus not only goes to those we have deemed at the bottom of our social list, he also goes to our enemy. Friends, this is a gutsy interpretation of this passage. And to do it in his hometown synagogue!
Fourth, as we shall see next week, these people are beginning to seethe. Jesus will ice the cake. After rolling up the scroll and handing it back to the synagogue attendant, he announces “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today, here and now, yes, right here among YOU! And we aren’t prepared to hear this message anymore than were the folks attending Sabbath services that day.
A non-sacrificial hermeneutic is Jesus’ hermeneutic, and it is the hermeneutic of the Gospel writers. It has been the hermeneutic of every authentic follower of Jesus since, whether Christian or not. It is the light that reveals our innermost selfishness, we want God’s blessing, but we want it for ourselves.
“All our resistance is turned against the light that threatens us. It has revealed so many things for so long a time without revealing itself that we are convinced that it comes from within us. We are wrong to appropriate it. We think we are the light because we witness it. But as it increases in brightness and scope it turns to itself for enlightenment. As the light of the Gospel extends to mythology it reveals its own specific nature.
The Gospel text is therefore in the process of justifying itself in the course of an intellectual history that seems foreign to it because that history has transformed our vision in a way that is foreign to all the religions of violence with which we foolishly confuse the Gospels. We have reached a new stage in the progress of this history which, though minor, bears heavy consequences for our intellectual and spiritual stability. It dissipates the confusion and reveals the meaning of the Gospel revelation as a critique of violent religion.” (Rene Girard, The Scapegoat).
This passage, which foreshadows the ultimate rejection of the "prophet like Moses," Luke’s primary christological category (see our brief introduction to Luke) also shows signs that the third evangelist has "conflated" Matthew’s version of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth (Mt. 13:54-58) with materials from the introduction and conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s innaugural sermon!) to create the setting for this programmatic speech by Jesus.
Next week we get to hear about the response of Jesus’ hearers. It isn’t pretty.
As a member of my parish said to me last weekend, “If you’re preaching the Gospel and everybody loves you, you’re doing something seriously wrong!” In the wake of a disastrous “decade of evangelism” in the Episcopal church, and an equally short-sighted 2020 initiative (the goal of doubling membership by 2020), the Episcopal church is going to be sorely tempted to turn back to an inoffensive and meaningless version of the Gospel in its pulpits.
How often have you struggled to overcome the fear of decline in order to preach the real Gospel? How often has it been costly to preach the real possibility of the realization of Jesus’ inaugural sermon, to say, “Today, this passage has been made true in your hearing?”
Some Sermon Thoughts
As preachers, if we take it seriously, the temptation will be to read this passage in the context of traditional liberalism, as a warrant for something akin to the justified violence of many liberation theologians. As with politicians like Dean, we’ll be drawn unconsciously into the habit of preaching against, rather than for.
Jesus’ way of reading this passage from Isaiah, his omission of the verses of violence, makes it a passage about the blotting out of differentiation. If we preach against some, any group who represents the injustices we seek to alleviate, we are no less guilty of the differentiation that inevitably leads back to the scapegoat.
This is a time for us, as preachers, to hold up the image of the world as God sees it, where those in prison are no less lovable than those who stand at the gates. We hold up the world of Jesus’ vision and lead people to that place rather than bloody ourselves and others tearing at the walls of the world’s ways of seeing with our bare fingers.
The world we preach was realized in Jesus. There is nothing left to “make.” We have only to see.